Free Stuff at the Q: The stuff that stuffed grape leaves are made of.

Do you like free stuff?

Well, who doesn’t?

From early spring to late fall, here in ABQ, we are surrounded with an abundance of edible plants, fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, greens and more. Some are native plants, indigenous to the Southwest, some are cultivated. Some were planted with the intention to provide food; some were planted for their beauty and some have been here all along. All you need to have to find, harvest and use them in your kitchen is an open mind, an open eye and perhaps an inspirational recipe. Then you’ll be well on your way to becoming your own personal culinary hero! This is Farm to Table without going to the farm!

Today we are making Dolmas, those delectable Mediterranean stuffed grape leaves. You can find the grape leaves sold in jars at various Mediterranean food stores, usually packed in brine. Once you tasted the fresh version, though, I’ll bet you a month’s rent you’ll never go back (just kidding, of course, but you get the point).

The time to collect grape leaves is in the spring – May & June – before the fruits start growing, so grab your basket, your clippers or scissors and head to the garden at The Q @ Vassar North or The Q @ Uptown where you’ll find a living fence of grape vines.

The best leaves for our purpose will be large and light green. I like to get the fourth and fifth leaves from the top of the plant. Try to get the leaves that are round and whole. We’ll need about 60 leaves.

The Dolmas Recipe for Inspiration

Makes 60 Dolmas

Ingredients

1 1/2 Cups Good rice, such as Basmati Rice. I’m using Carolina Gold. This dish relies on the flavor of the rice.
2 Tbs Butter
3 Cups Water
1 Onion Chopped
1 Tbs Zaatar (a Mediterranean blend of spices)
1 Tbs Honey
1 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Lemon Juice + Zest from 1 Lemon
1/2 Cup Raisins
Salt to Taste

Instructions

  1. In a large pan, combine 3 cups water with 1/2 cup of salt, bring to a boil.
  2. Using a slotted large spatula, cook the grape leaves 1 to 2 at a time for 10-15 minutes. Then, transfer to a kitchen towel; you can stack them in layers. Keep the cooked leaves in a single layer.
    • Single Grape Leaf being boiled
  3. When all the leaves are cooked, cover with an extra towel and set aside.
  4. In a medium pan, combine the onion and butter. Cook on medium heat until the onion is soft and translucent.
  5. Stir the raisins in.
  6. Add the rice and cook for a couple of minutes until the rice turns milky white.
  7. Add the honey, salt, and water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, then cook covered only until the water is absorbed. The rice shouldn’t be fully cooked as it will continue cooking in the oven.
  8. Remove from heat and add the lemon zest and zaatar. Adjust seasonings to taste.
  9. Place one leaf, vein side up, and place about a teaspoon of stuffing in the middle toward the base of the leaf. Roll it up and seal like you would a burrito, then place in a 9×9 baking dish.
    • Dolma ready to be wrapped
  10. Proceed with remaining leaves and stuffing, placing all the dolmas tightly together.
  11. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, and 1/2 cup of water and pour over the dolmas.
  12. Cover the dolmas with foil and place a heavy dish on top.
  13. Bake in a 375˚F preheated oven for 45 minutes.
    • Dolmas with heavy tray going into the oven
  14. Serve warm or cold with tahini or yogurt sauce. Pair with a glass of Greek wine on the side.

Side note: Don’t forget the spot where you harvested the grape leaves! Come back in a couple of months and those vines at The Q @ Vassar North will be heavy with a sweet and fragrant variety of grapes, raised without pesticides and ready to eat, and of course, much cheaper than those at the fancy grocery store up the street!